The benefits of Lists

Everyone knows that lists are great for ensuring you don’t forget something. Lists are used for this purpose when shopping or packing for holidays. Too think this is all that lists are good for would be a grave mistake. Did you know that lists can also serve as a great motivational tool?

When it comes to being a handy-man, my skill levels are somewhere south of average. Partly as a result of this, the number of tasks requiring attention in our house is often large. My patient and long-suffering wife recently commented on the number of outstanding items: locks to be put on cupboards, shelves to be erected, weeds to be sprayed, and on and on.

As she counted the tasks on the fingers of her left hand, then moved to the right, and back to the left, my heart sunk. It was all I could do to maintain an interested expression. And then, inspiration struck.

“Write them on a list,” I said. “I’ll look at the list every weekend and knock a couple off on Saturday and a couple on Sunday.”

She looked dubious. “If you say so,” she said. Taking pen and pencil, she wrote the list.

The next Saturday, as we ate lunch I asked her for the list. She passed it across. I scanned it quickly and pointed to a couple of jobs. “I’ll do these two this afternoon,” I said. And I did.

The tasks didn’t take too long – an hour or so – but the results were very pleasing. I have a sense of accomplishment and my wife has a smile on her face. With the list in place, I’m confident I’ll continue to make inroads over the coming weeks. Hopefully I’ll be able to cross things off faster than they’re added.

When I have a large challenge in front of me – whether it’s on the writing front, the domestic scene or at work – I find lists are a great way to get started, and the thrill of crossing out completed items provides the ongoing motivation to keep me forging ahead.

Do lists work for you?

6 thoughts on “The benefits of Lists

  1. Lists work for me big time! Ronnie worked that out pretty quickly.
    I very much agree with using it as a motivational tool. There is much satisfaction in giving each on the big tick.

    However, we have two columns in the tick list – one says completed, the other says approved! ;-)

  2. Peter, I have lived-by-list ever since I began making grocery lists when I first married – you probably know how long ago that was!
    Lists certainly are a great motivator. You see the list and, as you did, choose a job or do the next job on the list. Then you can tick it off. But lists have a greater power than that.
    I find that having a list helps you to remember what needs to be done, what you want to do, and what you must do.
    They can also be used to allocate tasks to those who have the tile, ability or inclination to do them.
    They can organise your tasks, from lesser to most important, and thus have a great impact on your priorities.
    Even if a list is long, it can be broken up into separate lists of easy, short, medium or long term, difficult, or awaiting a time when everything else is in place so it can get done.
    Dirk and I find it difficult to get along now without our lists. While I may remember the items I need from the grocery shop, I invariably forget to meet an appointment or some other relatively important commitment if I haven’t made a note of it.
    And I found a great way to re-use and re-cycle those envelopes that come in the mail (less frequently, not that bills are often paid online). I have a pile of them tucked around the corner in the pantry, and I use the backs of them to write my lists on.

  3. I was browsing through Umberto Eco’s website just to catch up on any upcoming publications, when I stumbled across his own profound take on lists.

    “The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.

    …At first, we think that a list is primitive and typical of very early cultures, which had no exact concept of the universe and were therefore limited to listing the characteristics they could name. But, in cultural history, the list has prevailed over and over again. It is by no means merely an expression of primitive cultures. A very clear image of the universe existed in the Middle Ages, and there were lists. A new worldview based on astronomy predominated in the Renaissance and the Baroque era. And there were lists. And the list is certainly prevalent in the postmodern age. It has an irresistible magic.

    …We like lists because we don’t want to die.”

    Umberto Eco

  4. Thanks for the insight Michael. Based on the wonderful comments that have been made, I’m seeing there is far more to this topic than I had originally considered. Learning by combining and building upon other people’s knowledge is pretty cool.